Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Fear of Flailing

There’s this theory in modern psychology that says that if you identify the reason a destructive behaviour exists, you can triumph over it.

I’m not sure that’s true.

A month ago I interviewed a business coach about success. During our conversation, I had a lightbulb moment. I felt, as so many people probably have, that he was talking about me.

The coach said that to succeed, you need four things: clarity, flexibility, focus, and belief. And belief is the most important aspect of them all, he explained. The reason why is simple–if we don’t truly believe we can achieve our goals, we won’t. The belief in our own potential has to start with us.

As soon as he said the words, I realized I don’t believe in myself. And hadn’t for a long time.

“What if you’ve lost your belief?” I asked him. “How do you get it back?”

When he went over the reasons people lose that inner confidence, one resonated with me. I was using my past to define my future.

Several years ago, I was committed to getting published. I made sure I always had twenty query letters in the mail. The rejections could be disheartening, sure, but it was also a very exciting time. It was like having twenty lottery tickets and never knowing which one might be the one.

And then I got a letter in the mail.

It looked so much like your standard rejection letter that I almost threw it out. Luckily, I realized in time that it was a request for a partial.

Things moved quickly after that. The partial request turned into a full manuscript request, followed by an offer of representation. Finally, my number had come in! I was elated.

My new agent seemed perfect. She was fairly new to the agenting game, so she wasn’t tied up with dozens of clients who were more successful and important. And she’d been an editor for years–she seemed to have tons of contacts and connections. Best of all, she loved my book. When someone who has edited the work of the most respected authors in the world tells you that you have what it takes, it’s a heady feeling.

Her dreams for me were big…almost as big as my own. She was only going to approach the big publishers with my book, she said. No small presses for me. And my book would go up for auction. I would soon be the literary equivalent of a rockstar.

A niggling voice inside said that I should be cautious. Agents don’t make promises like that, the voice whispered. But I shrugged off my doubts. I’d been wanting this for so long that it was just difficult to accept it was finally happening, I told myself. I tried to relax and enjoy it.

My novel went out to six publishers…and came back with six rejections. Two editors were interested if I was willing to rewrite it as a young adult novel. Foolishly, I said no, and my agent agreed with me. The other four rejections were versions of “I’m just not that into it”. My book was not masculine enough, or the publisher already had a cop story set in Minnesota, etc. There was no consensus. I now know that the correct response to this is to shrug and keep submitting. But being new, my agent panicked. She wanted me to rewrite it slightly, just enough so she could pitch it as a genre other than psychological suspense.

Seeing that the rewrites might take a little time, I sent the agent my second novel, which I’d been told was even stronger.

And that’s when the trouble started.

Issues that had reared their ugly heads before began to come up more and more. Suddenly, there were missed appointments and missed deadlines…and not on my end. Many an evening I waited at a pre-arranged time for my agent to call me, only to be told the next day (after I followed up) that it had rained in New York and all the phone lines went down. Instead of reading my book, she passed it off to her assistant.

And when she did finally read it, she didn’t like it. She wanted rewrites–massive rewrites. But when I finished the work, she would take months to review it.

This pattern continued for years. Her life changed dramatically, and as it did, her priorities seemed to shift. Whenever I tentatively asked her about sales, she’d get defensive. I mentioned that she didn’t seem passionate about being my agent anymore, but each time she’d insist that wasn’t the case and say things would get better.

They didn’t.

Finally, I decided enough was enough. I’d been rewriting the same book for about three or four years. And it wasn’t getting better…it was getting worse. Nothing was happening with either of my novels. I hadn’t written a new thing in years because I was so consumed with rewrites. I gently told the agent that we needed to part ways, and we ended things amicably. I immediately wrote a new book, the first since being signed.

And then I wrote another. And another.

I haven’t sent out a single query since I got that first request for a partial.

Instead of simply learning from my past, I was allowing it to dictate my future. Since my first experience with an agent was unsuccessful, I was terrified all my experiences would be. Which makes as much sense as thinking all your relationships are doomed to fail because you’ve had one break-up.

But, foolish or not, I’d absorbed this belief. It had become part of my truth. And yet, I wasn’t ready to give up on the dream of being traditionally published. I continued to write and not submit my work.

This is the year I’ve promised myself I’m going to get back in the game–to learn from the past instead of letting it define me.

However, just because I’ve realized what was holding me back doesn’t mean I’ve conquered it. I’m still scared of failing.

And getting over that fear is the hardest part.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

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  1. Sarah Foster

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m not anywhere near even finding an agent so it was nice to learn about your experiences. I think it was a good idea to take a break and just write. Good luck as you start your submissions!

    (January IWSG Co-host)

  2. Chrys Fey

    This is powerful: “The reason why is simple–if we don’t truly believe we can achieve our goals, we won’t.” And so true! We have to believe in ourselves, because if we don’t then who will?

    I am so sorry you went through all of that, but I’m glad that you’re going to get back to your dream of being traditionally published. I wish you the best of luck!!

  3. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading, ladies! It’s a long one today.

    @ Sarah – You’re very welcome. I’ve been scared to share my story for a long time, thinking it would poison other agents against me. You’re not supposed to talk about these things. But if someone doesn’t want me just because I had a prior bad experience, they’re not the right agent for me…that’s what I figure. Thanks for putting a positive spin on my lack of marketing! 🙂 And thanks for the luck…I’ll take it.

    @ Chrys: Everything that man said was powerful. If you have time, please read my two secrets of success posts. He had so much amazing advice.

    Thanks for your kindness!

  4. Diane Burton

    You (and your coach) are absolutely right. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, who will? I can commiserate with you on the agent. I lost 4 yrs being with someone who talked a good game. I felt like I lost control of my career. It takes a while to come back from that. It sounds like you’re on your way. Good luck.

  5. Charity Bradford

    *hugs* The past can make looking forward so hard! I went through something similar (but not with an agent) last year. Learning to let go and believe in yourself again is harder than forgiving other people. It’s easy to let those fears hold us back, drive us crazy.

    Briefly, I didn’t stand up for certain things in my story that needed to stay and let my publisher cut them. It made it VERY hard to continue writing the series because I felt like all the ground work I’d laid for the next two books were gone. I was so angry at myself for betraying my characters and my overall vision.

    It’s been a long emotional roller coaster, but I’m almost finished with the second book. It’s a crappy draft, but at least I’m moving past my own anger and fear of failing Talia again.

    Here’s to believing in ourselves and the system. It can and will work for us in a way that we can be comfortable with. We just have to be patient and strong.

  6. Diane Riggins

    Thanks for sharing your story. Good luck with everything! 🙂

  7. Mystic_Mom

    You are right Holli – and we have to keep trying. Keep getting it out there. Don’t give up!

  8. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks for your kind comments, ladies.

    @ Diane: I wish he was my coach! I just got the one interview, but soaked up all the wisdom I could and shared it. I’m sorry to hear you went through a similar situation. It’s horrible, isn’t it? Did you go through the same mess of knowing it wasn’t working but not wanting to fire the agent, because it would feel like you were back at square one? What a nightmare.

    @ Charity: Thanks for your kind, supportive words. I’m sorry to hear you went through that. That would really bother me, too. It certainly makes self-publishing attractive, but then that comes with a new bunch of hassles. What to do? Sigh.

    @ Diane – Thanks, and thanks for commenting! Good luck to you as well.

    @ MM – Thanks, Shanyn. I will do my best.

  9. Roland Clarke

    A bitter but valuable experience, and you sound as you are the wiser person by far. Believe in yourself, never give up, may 2014 be the special & well deserved year. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks so much, Roland. It was definitely not the first publishing experience I wanted, that’s for sure. Believing in myself is so difficult, but hopefully with practice, I will get better.

    Thanks for the support!

  11. Cindy W.

    Wow, Holli, what a story! And thanks for sharing it. It’s good to be open to the reality that things go wrong. But I like your attitude, and you have definitely turned out the better for it.

  12. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks, Cindy! I hope it helps someone. And I hope you’re right.

  13. Michelle Wallace

    What a roller coaster ride!
    You can say you’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt… and it sounds like you’re ready to take the bull by the horns!
    Great spirit and attitude Holli!
    You are so brave. It does sound like you’ve learned a lot from the experience.
    I wish you a productive 2014!

  14. Rhonda Parrish

    I hear you.

    I really do. Add to the fear of failing my fear of looking stupid and you’ve got quite a recipe for… something ungood.

    I think it took a lot of courage to share your story, and I hope it’s a step toward re-building your confidence in yourself.

  15. Patricia Lynne

    Having that happen would be very disheartening. I can understand why you’d hesitate. But you kept writing all that time, so you must have a little belief in yourself. Time to nurture that and let it flourish.

  16. Holli Moncrieff

    @ Michelle: Thanks so much for the kind words! I’m glad you think I have a great attitude…I just hope I can put my actions where my mouth is, so to speak. I wish you a great 2014 as well!

    @ Thanks, Rhonda. It did take courage, because we’re often warned not to share our bad experiences with the publishing industry, as it may turn us into untouchables. But what good are negative experiences if we can’t use them to comfort and warn others? I’m sure even agents have to accept that not everyone is cut out for the job, just as some people aren’t cut out to be writers.

    I hope you get past your fears. I’m always here if you want to talk about it.

    @ Patricia – It took a while. And whenever it came time to polish my books for publication, I stalled. I procrastinated. I dragged one minor rewrite out for three years. All of this stalling and procrastination just resulted in more self-hatred. It’s a vicious cycle. Thanks for your support.

  17. Kirsten

    What a fascinating story! You are awesome for persisting in spite of such disappointment. I don’t know if I could have.
    However, for those of us who dream of traditional publishing submitting our work is a necessary step. Consider how far you did get, by eliciting an agent’s interest! You’re so much closer than many other writers. 🙂

    I hope this year brings you the success you deserve!

  18. S.K. Anthony

    Fear can control our future if we let it, you have not let it. You’ve kept writing and are more ready than ever to keep it another shot. Don’t let your experience with this ‘new’ agent (at that time) stop you from trying again, keep that chin up and keep going. You will succeed. Best of luck 😉

  19. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks, Kirsten and SK Anthony. I think you’re giving me more credit than I deserve, but I really appreciate your kind words. Thanks for being here!

  20. readfaced

    Who knew that in writing you would have to be just as tough as you are in the kick boxing ring? I am so sorry that you had to go through that, but am so glad you shared it with all of us. All of us will be stronger for it. Good luck and I can’t wait to hear that you have that new agent.
    Leanne ( http://readfaced.wordpress.com/ )

  21. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks so much, Leanne. I really appreciate the kind words. I think the publishing industry is much tougher than kickboxing in a lot of ways. 🙂

  22. J.L. Campbell

    Holli, I’m glad you shared your story. Although you might have been bogged down by fear, you’re also very patient, which I’m sure will pay off in the end.

  23. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks, JL, but it’s not patience so much as being really good at putting difficult stuff off and focusing on something else. Hence the lack of publishing success.

    I appreciate the kind words and support!

  24. Michelle D. Argyle

    Sigh, YES. Learning from the past and not letting it define you is absolutely essential. That’s exactly why 2014 is a year of healing for me. It’s the only way for me to not get sucked into the defining stuff.

  25. Holli Moncrieff

    Yeah, it’s a lot easier to say than to do. I think I’ll have to just go on blind faith until I have a good experience to replace the bad.

    I hope your year of healing goes well. <3

  26. Donelle Lacy

    A good experience to replace the bad is a great way to look at it. I’m glad you finally posted this and yet sad you had to go through it in the first place. You have learned so much more than many new writers fishing for agents, and even some writers who’ve gotten them. I think your story will help other writers avoid winding up in that situation. I think in the future it should benefit you, since you already know what to watch for.

    Don’t give up. Better experiences will come. You can do this. If you need cheering, I’m available and will do all I can.

    My motto for this year is “try again”. Fitting for the setbacks I’ve experienced last year and how behind I feel on the road to publishing. If we keep trying, we will succeed!

  27. Holli Moncrieff

    Thanks so much for your comment, Donelle. It means a lot to me.

    I still drag my feet when it comes to submitting my work, but I hope to really start picking up steam in late February. I can always use a good query buddy.

    I’m glad you’re able to keep your hope and optimism as well. It ain’t easy in this business!


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